Cog Hill owner Frank Jemsek heard the criticism.
He understood comments issued by PGA Tour pros the past two years after they cavorted on Cog’s Dubsdread course. He didn’t like it, but he’s too nice a guy to say so.
The cause was the climate. The weather in July and August 2010 was not conducive to keeping bentgrass alive, much less growing it.
“I wish they were saying good things about the golf course, but it’s hard to fight the facts,” Jemsek said at the time.
But the criticism of Dubsdread from Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, among others, based on the architectural renovation of the Dick Wilson design by Rees Jones? That he didn’t and doesn’t understand.
“We didn’t rebuild the golf course for one year,” Jemsek said, noting the precision with which pros were targeting approach shots into the sectioned greens. “We rebuilt it for the next 20 years.”
Jemsek sank $5.2 million into the renovation, which was occasioned in part because the mixture of greens on the course – some push-up greens designed by Wilson and Joe Lee in 1964, some subsequently rebuilt to USGA specifications – yielded different results when pros hit approach shots into them.
A wish to modernize bunker positioning and offer a better test for the pros and the Dubsdread clientele – and position the course for a U.S. Open, a generational Jemsek quest – prompted Frank to pick up the phone and call Jones.
He’ll be calling him again. Jemsek says Jones, and assistant Greg Muirhead, will be part of any renovation of Dubsdread.
“We will not do any of the (contemplated) changes without Rees being involved,” Jemsek said.
Even though the BMW Championship, played most years as the Western Open in the 20 occasions Cog Hill hosted it, will be played at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest when it returns to the Chicago area in 2013.
“We want the course to have the same continuity,” Jemsek said.
Before Jones or Muirhead take a look at a tweaking, Jemsek knows a couple of things will change at the outset. He wants to take out a bunker on the right side of the first fairway, leaving one as a target that only the longest pros can reach.
Jemsek also wants to soften the hillside on the left side of the 12th green, a severe dropoff at the moment that causes plenty of trouble for the customers who pay $155 to play. The multiple tee complex that connects the fifth and ninth holes already has been adjusted to make the par-4 fifth a 507-yard par-5 again, while the par-5 ninth, a true three-shotter, has been shortened from 613 yards to 586.
“I think it’ll be plenty tough,” Jemsek said of the fifth restored to its original par of five. And the ninth, with the green even more elevated than Wilson had it, never will be a pushover.
“It’s actually a little easier to knock it on, but Jones still kept the trap that Wilson and Joe Lee had there, to make the lay-up a little more thought provoking,” Jemsek said. “Rees tried to make it so more people would hit it over the trap, and I think he accomplished that.”
Time was eroding the shot value of the layout before Jones restored it. Now, Jemsek doesn’t want to see it lessened for his everyday customers, just because players who were playing for a $7 million purse thought it too difficult.
“When they build a (tough) golf course or change it, it receives a lot of criticism, and as time goes by, the criticism fades,” Jemsek said. “I’m thinking of all the nice things they say about Butler National, and I can remember (what was said) when they built it. Jack Nicklaus chewed them up for many years.
“Rees’ building (Dubsdread’s) greens in sections to try to defend the golf course will become more popular as time goes on, as these guys get longer and stronger and better. He may have made some changes that are ahead of time.”
Any changes made will be seen only by those who pay to play “Dubs.” Getting the BMW back, or another tournament on site to replace it, is something Jemsek is keenly interested in. He even attended the USGA’s annual meeting, carrying the torch for a National Open.
“Hopefully, they would not forget me,” Jemsek said.
Fat chance of that. But with the Open, as well as the PGA Championship, lined up elsewhere for years to come, Jemsek knows the quest for a major will not be fulfilled overnight. If and when it is, perhaps by then the pros will understand what Jemsek was trying to, and has, accomplished.